29 June 2008

The Monsanto effect

UPDATE: I got this one in today,about rBGH in the milk. Very interesting

I have just watched The World According to Monsanto in four parts on the internet, available from here. I had seen dribs-and-drabs of it over the past few months, but I wanted to see it in its entirety before writing a column on it, so I watched it all again last night.

The 100 or so minutes of video follows the stream of consciousness of a French investigator as she outlines the extraordinary influence wielded by the world’s most powerful and dangerous corporation.

I am as impressed as much by what the video left out, as by what it included. Instead of bombarding us with a litany of the sins of Monsanto in each and every field of endeavor in which the chemical/biotech giant is engaged, the author treats us to only the most salient story in each level of involvement. It is obvious that each of these sins applies in every field of endeavor, and so the reporter, quite ingeniously, creates a broad-brush picture of global menace, and of ubiquitous government infiltration and influence.

The unmistakable impression left by this piece of video journalism is that Monsanto’s primary concern is its own profit margin, and that human suffering does not register on Monsanto’s radar unless such suffering can be exploited to turn a further profit.

This march of conquest by Monsanto says as much about the broken systems of government that make Monsanto’s sins possible, as it does about the insidious behavior of the industrial revolution’s most alarming Frankenstein.

None of this is possible without the complacency of ordinary people who refuse to take an active interest in politics and political appointments. We can be assured that corporate interests take great interest, and Monsanto’s sins are a direct and stunning consequence of our wanton neglect of the political institutions that provide our only hope for protection.

For those of you who have not watched the presentation (and don’t have 100 minutes to give to the exercise), the sins of Monsanto can be outlined in a few simple statements, corroborated by a mix of fact and innuendo that is compelling, if not entirely damning.

Sin 1
Monsanto cannot be trusted to put human health above its own interest.

Sin 2
Monsanto exerts undue influence over government.

Sin 3
Monsanto makes false claims to promote its products.

Stated that simply, I could be talking about any corporation in the world, and I can almost hear the collective yawn of “is that all?” from anyone who does not understand what these things actually mean when they get out of hand.

The following list is a rundown on the content of the video, re-organized to develop the argument against this corporate giant in a way that builds on its known history to give reasonable basis for global concern.

Monsanto’s history of concern for human suffering.

Monsanto is the chemical giant who covered up known toxic effects of PCB’s for many decades (as early as the 1930’s), with the collusion of government officials in the 1970’s until forced to settle compensation claims in 2001. (Anniston, Alabama). The cost of compensation this late in the game is far outweighed by profits gained at the expense of millions of people over 70 years.

Nitro, West Virginia, an explosion in a 2,4,5-T herbicide (major component of Agent Orange) plant produced unexpected reactions in exposed workers in 1949. In a 1978 study sponsored by Monsanto, data was clearly manipulated to disprove the carcinogenicity of dioxin, absolving Monsanto, and the US government, for responsibility for the Agent Orange debacle in Vietnam. Monsanto is accused by an EPA scientist in 1994 of falsifying those studies concerning the carcinogenicity of dioxin.

Monsanto’s flagship herbicide product, billed as safe and friendly to the environment, is implicated in the promotion of Cancer. Robert Belle, French National Centre for Scientific Research was asked to drop his claims about cellular damage caused by this herbicide due to the implications of his findings regarding GMO. Monsanto was also forced to remove the “bio-degradable” label from its product in Europe because it was proven to be a false claim.

Monsanto’s influence on the GMO regulatory process.

Described as a “Revolving Door” many key figures in the FDA have gone on to well-paid jobs at Monsanto, and key FDA positions have been filled by ex-Monsanto employees. This might seem to be merely coincidence,being that the two industres are closely related, however a potential conflict of interest emerges as we work out what has actually transpired in the FDA over the last 25 years.

Monsanto’s own BGH research showed major problems with mastitis and reproductive abnormalities in cows treated with the hormone, this information was by-passed by FDA officials, and whistle-blowing FDA employees were sidestepped and fired. Residual hormones in BGH milk have been linked to several kinds of cancer according to independent research cited in this video.

The introduction of BGH into the food supply paved the way for Monsanto’s most outrageous coup. GMO’s entirely bypass the food regulatory processes in the USA, thanks to Monsanto.

By inserting a sympathetic lawyer into a key position in the FDA process at the time biotech was being discussed, Monsanto was able to exert inordinate influence in how biotech legislation was crafted. This resulted in the FDA principle of “substantial equivalence” which, as a part of the first Bush Administration’s “Regulatory Relief Initiative”, allows GMO’s to go completely un-identified in the American food supply.

The principle of substantial equivalence gives biotech companies the right to market their products as safe for human consumption without any independent testing for their safety.

The same Monsanto employee /ex FDA official is on audio record as saying that the very legislation that he was instrumental in crafting is insufficient to the task of assuring consumer confidence.

“We have been consuming DNA for centuries without harm” was a comment made by James Mariansky, FDA Biotech Co-Ordinator 1985-2004 when interviewed for this video. For those who do not understand the implications of this statement, DNA has, indeed, been consumed for eons. DNA in this altered state has not, and it is consumed without any independent testing for its safety. It is unforgivable ignorance for a trusted official, holding a key position in a regulatory authority, to make such a glib statement in defense of such a potentially hazardous food technology.

“Its not in the company’s interests to design a study in some way that would mask results” these damning words from James Mariansky, FDA Biotech Co-Ordinator 1985-2004, explaining that FDA scientists reviewed Monsanto results rather than conducting their own research on GMO Soybeans. Independent review of this research finds the same Monsanto research to be seriously lacking. Monsanto has a track record of masking research results, or setting up bogus research, to suit its own profit margin.

It is very clear that the decision not to regulate GMO’s was based on politics, not science. (Which was another admission made by mariansky)

The potential for hazards in genetic engineering processes surfaced when independent research conducted by Arpad Pusztai in Aberdeen, Scotland, found that it was the genetic engineering process, not the genome, that caused irregularities in the digestion and immune systems of rats which had been fed genetically modified potatoes. Pustzai, was and is Europe’s most qualified expert in this field of scientific research.

When these findings became public, enormous influence was wielded from top levels of government to discredit the research. This finding cost Pustzai his career of over 30 years, and was the beginning of the end for GMO’s in Europe.

Monsanto’s Monopoly on Food.

About half of the presentation is devoted to this issue. It is this argument that makes it very clear that concern is warranted. Any other argument made above, on its own, makes Monsanto an undesirable company, and one that folks of conscience are likely to avoid. Adding all of the above arguments together, however, makes the proliferation of Monsanto’s GM product of very great concern, particularly with the influence these folks have been able to have at the seat of several governments.

“They [Monsanto] are in the process of owning food, all food” lamented Troy Roush, Indiana farmer who was on the receiving end of some very unfavorable litigation carried out by Monsanto in the name of protecting Monsanto’s patents.

Monsanto is accused of buying up other seed companies worldwide, and then making their own GM product the sole product available on the market. Monsanto’s Bt cotton monopoly in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra India is cited as an example of a monopoly where non-Bt cotton is no longer available to growers. In the face of a major failing in the Bt crop, suicide is common and farmers are outraged.

Vandana Shiva, president if India’s Navdanya Foundation, observes that, by owning GM patents, Monsanto owns seeds, collecting royalties on them, and therefore the world becomes dependant on Monsanto for all food and plant based crops, and Monsanto receives royalties on all food.

Owning the patents on seeds means that Monsanto effectively own life.

Monsanto’s Aggressive proliferation tactics are cause for greater concern.

Mexico’s ban on growing GM corn has not stopped pollution of Mexico’s cornstocks by cheap imported corn from the USA, 40 percent of which is GM corn.

Monsanto reportedly employed “fake scientists” to instigate a smear campaign to discredit the Mexico research and put pressure on Nature Magazine to discredit the researchers.

Paraguay was forced to legalize GM soybean crops after its farmland was extensively sowed with GM seed from neighboring Argentina. Monsanto now collects royalties on every ton of soybeans produced by both countries, and apparently Brazil has encountered the same problem. Small farmers are being squashed out, and poisoned out, by the chemical-intensive GM crops.

So, the upshot of all of this?

To quote the blogger who hosts this particular presentation

“Those who don't take an active interest in politics will forever be ruled by those that do.”

(Still trying to find a “famous” source for this one, so far I have found it on the Obama campaign website, but there is no attribution, which means it is likely a paraphrase of a better known quote. Whatever its pedigree turns out to be, it’s a fantastic quote!!)

Our political systems were put in place many years ago for our own protection.

Our own lack of interest undermines that protection at its very roots.

Next time we wonder at the inordinate rise in autism, or cancer, or the various maladies of human suffering, we must ask ourselves how much our own apathy about unholy allegiances between industry and government, our own self-interest generated by the same corporations who are desperate to keep us complacent, has contributed to this mess… then see if we can’t do something real to fix it.

It is for us, as the 21st century subset of the human collective, to decide how to curtail this monster of our own making.

To put this into an even more alarming perspective, Monsanto is effectively a US citizen, having every right and protection under the law that any other citizen has. Can you imagine the US military being mobilized in order to protect Monsanto's international GM food interests? Sound impossible? How's life in downtown Baghdad today?

The thing that any corporation lives for is profit. If there is no profit to be had in destruction, it will turn its hand to creativity, or it will die.

Supporting efforts to ensure that GM foods and products are subjected to rigorous independent testing is essential if we are to ensure the well-being of our children and their children. The one thing that politicians in democratic societies cave into more often than corporate coffers is people, lots of people.

Staving off corporate dominance of world politics will require a greater effort, but it begins with accountability, and that begins when the people, lots of people, give a damn.

Forcing our politicians, of all stripes in all countries, to make real laws with real teeth regarding GMO food safety is probably the most important, far reaching, political cause of our time.

Take Care



  1. interesting! is there a "list" of the foods they are involved in? should I be boycotting something, or is the list too long?

  2. That I know of: wheat, soy, corn.

    Really, the only way to boycott Monsanto is to either grow your own food or buy from people who do, and who know where their seed came from.

    We are using mainly heritage seeds this year ... but that's not practical for every family.

  3. http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/09/monsanto-is-hap.html

    "US consumer attitudes don't ...matter very much to the current GM food business. All Monsanto needs is for you to love Twinkies and Coca-Cola, the food machinery of this country does the rest.

    Monsanto’s model is business-to-business.

    To the average consumer, GM crops are invisible, especially because you don’t have to label them in the US. The attitudes towards GMO that matter to Monsanto are those held by big agribusiness seed buyers and corporate farmers, not Joe Six Pack.

    If you’re an opponent of GM foods, here comes the scary punchline. A big chunk of all that genetically modified corn and soy go right into our processed foods and into feed for the animals we eat. So chances are, unless you are a raw or organic foodista, you ate a GM food derivative this very day."

  4. The three big GM oil crops are Soy, Cottonseed and Corn, so anything that lists one of those may have GMO oil in it (its a lot cheaper) anything that lists vegetable oil without being specific, possibly GMO crop oil.

    As Misti pointed out, thee folks are business-to-business traders, the only way the average joe can beat them is through regulation, and we know how well that has gone in the last 30 years.

    It is very important to return government to a state of actual accountability, and that requires folks getting a little more active than we are accustomed to being...

  5. Today Monsanto is trying to portray that they will be the savior of the world food shortages by producing food using massive amounts of fuels (pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers) and without doubt their owned seeds; at the very same time Dow is trying to give the impression that they will solve the world fuel shortfall by producing biofuels from, get this food.

    I wouldn't trust either of these companies to do anything for humanity unless it pays well and this works both ways consume food to produce fuel and consume fuel to produce food, charge for both processes and make the world think that you are the savior.

    And you ask why Government doesn't do something about it; well they get to tax both products at the new inflated rates.

    And you ask if it could get worse?

    Cpl. Kenneth H. Young CD (Ret'd).

  6. Many foods that are GMO are not recognizable but there is one thing that is sure - seeds. If any products are seedless otherwise known as coming from Monsanto and what is known as terminator seeds (so watermelon, grapes and a whole list of other seedless foods are GMO's.

    Most corns especially those grown in areas where corn would grow only 20 years ago because of the lack of heat units which are requires to for the corn to ripen and one that I personally love the taste of, Peaches and Cream. Rule of thumb is if it contains corn, modified corn, corn starch or corn surop, it is most likely GM.

    Cpl. Kenneth H. Young CD (Ret'd).


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